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  One thing that both Neruda and Aime Cesaire taught me,

was that the political can also be “personal”




Books by Askia M. Touré

From the Pyramids to the Projects: Poems of Genocide and Resistance!  / Dawnsong:The Epic Memory of Askia Toure

African Affirmations: Songs for Patriots Biography - Toure, Askia Muhammad Abu Bakr el (1938-)

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Rudy Interviews Askia Touré

On Dawnsong! And the Black Arts Movement

Part 2


Rudy: In the poem “Eye of Ra/1,” I was pleasantly amused by the line “Osiris-I, / a Paul Robeson, / a Muhammad Ali,/ . . . /plumed stallions dancing upon/Eurasian skulls?” You invoke the Egyptian god Osiris, his manifestation in contemporary heroes. 

In Dawnsong! you also emphatically  point out a clash of civilizations – that which is African versus that which is Eurasian. This poem thus seems to mirror the “poetic equivalent” of the view of Cheikh Anta Diop and others of that historical tradition which theorizes Egypt (Africa) as a millennial victim.

Can we truthfully say that ancient Egypt was more a victim than a millennial oppressor? You recall, our folks sang, “Tell Old Faro Let My People Go.”

Askia: Rudy, have you thoroughly read Diop’s The African Origins of Civilization, Myth or Reality, or his equally seminal The Cultural Unity of Black Africa?  If so, you’d realize that he was outlining, in detail, what specifically was the Cushite, or African, vision and ancient societal model. Also, one would think that you’d approve of this act of historical restoration/self-determination: anti-colonialist African scholars seeking to, as Dr. Asa Hilliard says, “Return to the Source”—the World’s seminal Civilization which parented not only Mediterranean (“Western”) civilization, but also “Middle Eastern” civilization.

And I find it “pleasantly amusing” that you seem to overlook the modern, imperialist doctrine of World White Supremacy, which provided the rationale for the Maafa, or African Holocaust, which destroyed Medieval African Civilization (Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Ife, Benin, etc.), and as many as sixty to one hundred million Africans, via chattel slavery and colonialism. 

And as for “Go Down, Moses,” please don’t utilize our battered, raped slave ancestors who were only exposed by their masters to Jewish folklore and patriarchal religious myth to pacify them (which failed by the way: only remember the slave-prophet your website is named after. He certainly didn’t “turn the other cheek” to oppressors!).

As for the Kamites (Egyptians), I’m not saying they were perfect. They were human beings who developed the first Civilization, and were leading the Ancient World.

But, as Dr. John H. Clarke has taught, the 19th Century Germans and Anglo-Saxons not only colonized Africa, Asia, and the dark Human Majority, but they colonized Knowledge: they re-wrote History, falsified it and Europeanized it.

They literally wrote the ancient Africans out of history, portraying them as “eternal savages,” “inferior" "heathens," who made no contributions to human culture—which seems to have deeply influenced your outlook on Africans.

In fact, one of the reasons Sonia, Amiri, Dr. Nathan Hare and I, among others, pioneered Africana Studies at San Francisco State Univ. was the backwards, self-hatred displayed by Blacks who were ignorant about their ancestors. As Brother Malcolm X said: “Who stole your history and made you despise yourself?"

Rudy: After reading your poems in Adoff’s anthology and in Dawnsong! I’m convinced that the “rap” in your poems, back then in the BAM days, have had an influence on me, maybe subconsciously in a circuitous manner.  I wrote a poem about twenty years ago titled “Rahsaan Dead at Forty-One,” a praise poem for Roland Kirk on experiencing him doing “Volunteer Slavery” at the Famous Ballroom in Baltimore.

I like Roland’s style, his sound, his persona. I tried to represent his spirit on the page.  For me it was play, recreating that joy I saw him carrying on stage.

If Dawnsong! is anything it is a book of praise poems, a book of invocations, as if you are trying to bring into life a civilization and its mysteries, long dead, that existed in the past, thousands and thousands of years ago. In her Introduction, Professor Joyce wrote that you have developed a coherent system of symbols that bring together a viable world, like we see in the Hobbit.

Was Dawnsong! a bit of play for you, as we see in “O Lord of the Light,” a poem in which you invoke the musician-composer Sun Ra and his stage antics? Or is there more?

Askia: What Dr. Joyce said was: “Taking Larry Neal’s resurrection of the Orisha in blues to its ultimate development, Touré replaces Neal’s [allusions] to Black folk culture with allusions to Egyptian history and mythology. Consequently Touré expands and extends the Black Aesthetic paradigm, taking it to its natural conclusion as he develops an Afrocentric paradigm reflective of the intellectual progression of the Black Aesthetic from the 1960s to the 1990s.” [my emphasis]

“Additionally [she cites certain key poems] illuminate a cohesiveness in his art. This cohesiveness grounds him in the artistic principles of the Black Arts Movement and provides him with a revolutionary aesthetic with its foundations in Africa and the East. By using Egyptian gods, goddesses, and ancient history as the framework for his poetic vision, Touré has magnanimously brought a systematically new iconography to African-American poetry.” [ my emphasis]

And, Rudy, her references in comparing my work were the African epic, the “Ozidi Saga,” and the “Western epics of Homer [the Iliad and the Odyssey] and Virgil [the Aenead],” which were actual ancient wars with “god-like” heroes, and not Tolkein’s Hobbit fantasies. Remember Heinrich Schliemann actually dug up the ruins of Troy.

As for the late Master Sun Ra, while he sometimes engaged in “cosmic humor,” and was playful; however, his preservation of the big band/swing structures, and linking them beyond westernized “nightclub jazz” to a Cosmic Vision was dead serious: like, for instance, the koans (riddles) of Japanese Zen masters, who ask, “what is the sound of one hand clapping”? which can’t be solved with only the rational/logical mind.

Oh, I don’t know, Bro., when thoroughly studying “O Lord of Light!” an epic of Jazz history coupled with Sun Ra’s Osirian Drama, could there really be more?

Rudy: Do you believe that African paganism, primarily ancestor worship and magic (defying time and the laws of science), has some liberation value in our 21st hi-tech society? In his White Man, Listen! Richard Wright argued that this African “trait” would be the death of Africans. I think Wright went too far. From afar it seems however that African tribal cultures generate conflict, war, genocide, famine. The worse evils ever come into being. Mostly, Africans are now either Muslims or Christians, trying to put that tribal history behind them. Is there something wrong with that?

Of course, African is now more than Bantu? Don’t we all now have to create a more open-ended identity than one based on old concepts of race and nation?

Askia: As to your sinister “African paganism, primarily ancestor worship and magic (defying time and the laws of science),” you’re kidding me, right? Do you really champion such a backwards position? I feel as though I’m being severely questioned by a jury composed of Cecil Rhodes, Rudyard Kipling, King Leopold of Belgium, and Christian Missionary, David Livingston!

As I said before, I severely disagree with your assumptions. No people can ever rise in the World who’re ignorant of, and have a deep contempt for their ancestors . . . . Looking in the face of the Great Sphinx, the Pyramids of Giza, the grand temples of Karnak and Luxor (the world’s largest temples), part of the Seven Wonders of the World, how can you state that Ancient, Classical African Civilization (Egypt and Nubia) and subsequent cultures had not developed science?

No medicine, mathematics, geometry, trigonometry, architecture, engineering, astronomy, etc.? So then, Thales, Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle, etc. were deluded and wasting their time by studying under these African priest-scholars and sages?

And Homer and Herodotus were equally “foolish” when they praised the “god-like Ethiopians, the oldest and most perfect of men”?

I don’t know, bro., but if the famous Greek philosophers, scientists, historians and sages spoke this way about my ancestors, I’d at least have a basic curiosity to investigate them . . . As for the racist, Eurocentric propaganda about “African tribal cultures generating conflict, war, genocide, famine,” that is so pro-Western, pro-Imperialist an outlook, that I’m not going to dignify it by responding. 

Haven’t you read Rodney’s How Europe Under-developed Africa? Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, or Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons, or Cabral’s Revolution in Guinea?

Finally, that you, an African-American, part of a People who lived under official U.S. Apartheid (Jim Crow Segregation) until 1965, can recite such opinions astounds me! Is this racist-imperialist Society which just (crookedly) “re-selected” the neo-fascist George W. Bush, a more “open-minded” Society? Aren’t you blaming the victims of Harold Cruse’s and Harry Haywood’s “Domestic Colonialism,” and the bards of the African-American Intifada?

Rudy: Rightfully, “Nefertari: A Praise Song” is the most beautiful and the most lovely, sensuous poem in Dawnsong! You have in this idealized landscape an idealized black woman, the most perfect of all female perfections. Do you think such beauty is singular or is it democratic and egalitarian?

Askia: Aesthetics. What do the political terms “democratic” and “egalitarian” have to do with the aesthetics of female (or male) beauty; aesthetics which embody the standards of a “race” or nationality? I take it also that you’re somewhat unfamiliar with symbolist poetry, which can be rather “tricky” for literal, non-metaphorical thinkers. 

On the basic, human level, I believe that the African woman is beautiful in her own right, without comparison to anyone else; and, further, she is the original (being the First Woman, in all of its implications) human beauty archetype. So that’s what the poem’s about: archetypes and mythic symbols of primal feminine beauty.

Rudy: I recall Baraka saying that you were a singer of words and I’ve heard you singing. They say jazz music is an aural music even when notes are read. In any event I just know that which I like about jazz or jazz music. I like Leon Thomas and “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” I like Miles “Sketches of Spain.” Or Satchmo’s phrasing. Or Robert Johnson’s “Hellhounds on My Trail.”

I also like your singing in Osirian Rhapsody: A Myth.”

In this poem are the curious lines, “infernos of the spirit,/exterminating/angels of the mind.” Should one read this as meaning that religion, truth, true devotion should move the believer, that is, thinking gets one in trouble? You know for us Baptists and Methodists that’s a very convincing kind of argument about worship style.

Askia: In Osirian Rhapsody: A Myth,” in condensed language, the poet is asking one to actually observe the horrendous Twentieth Century, with its racism, colonialism, global war, and various holocausts in Europe, Africa, Asia; its nuclear disasters endangering Humanity, as perhaps the scariest time in human history since the Ice Age.

And, further, the great Black Musicians were “priest-philosophers” (as I noted in my theoretical Liberator essays) who “chanted litanies of Rebirth”—via Jazz/Cosmic innovation—which opened the total Human Being to healing, unity and “spiritual” Rebirth. (I recently finished “Miles and Me” by my brother, Quincy Troupe. In the epilogue, he made the same point about the effects of Miles’ music upon humanity.) How this relates to non-thinking, I haven’t the faintest idea.

(I’d surmise that healing might, in fact, encourage clarity of thought.) However, over the years, I’ve noticed plenty of “Baptists and Methodists” at the great Jazz and Reggae festivals, in Quincy’s words, “shaking their booties” to the healing, liberating music—our Modern gift to humanity.

Rudy: Du Bois , 30s social activists, and Mao concluded that there was no such thing as art for art’s sake. Maybe that’s an absurdity as Jacques Maritain argues. The artist is never absolved from moral responsibility to God and man. For love is never in vain.

At his talk at Yenan in 1942, Mao said, “All our literature and art are for the masses of the people,” speaking of peasants and workers. One wonders how such uniformity in art  is possible among a people so numerous so diverse as the Chinese, varying traditions, and memories even though they all speak Chinese.

Is there a middle road here in this philosophy of art?  I suppose all art, as Maritain points out, urges and evokes in us “intuitive experience, revelation, and beauty”— like when you use the phrase “prophet of/galactic metaphor.” How fitting! Or fantastic in the instance when you say, “syncopation/released from Pyramids/of monumental/Joy.”

Askia: As for the social responsibilities of artists, Du Bois , Chairman Mao, etc., generally, I agree with the tenor and tone of your musing here. Actually as a symbolist poet, I believe that the human mind works on many levels, and Art at its grandest, like music, works upon those multiple levels.

My utilizing of imagery, symbolism, myth and metaphor toward the resurrecting of our lost archetypes, is a restoration of the grand spirituality, the depth language of poetry, as the World’s peoples knew it—from the Ancient World through the 19th Century, before Eliot, Auden and the New Critics “dumbed it down,” and focused solely upon the sordid, the morbid, and the purely “rational/logical” mind; banishing the Imagination and the Beautiful from human memory.

That is why I admired Allen Ginsberg’s work, and his resurrection of William Blake, Shelley, and along with Gary Snyder, their embracing of the ancient poetry of India, China, and Japan. They were, to my mind, attempting to poetry out of the mundane strait-jacket of the square, Anglo “New Critics.” I followed their work, along with that of the brilliant LeRoi Jones, when I was in the Air Force of the late ‘50s. . . . Since then, in my searches for an African-American epic/communal Voice, I followed the translated work of Pablo Neruda and his celebrated “Canto General,” as well as his powerful “Spain in my Heart,” and his subsequent political poetry.

If one has read the “Canto General,” and Neruda’s other books, one can see his influence in Dawnsong! (as critic James Smethurst alluded to). And, finally, all true poets, in my opinion, write for humanity: which is something Pablo Neruda, Cuba’s Nicholas Guillen, and Cheikh Anta Diop, who were all Marxists, realized.

Rudy: Clearly, Dawnsong! is Pan-Africanist in its orientation. You evoke the cultures of East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, Brazil, and USA. “Aboriginal Elegy” is such a poem. It surprises. It’s more romantic than classical antiquity.

An elegy for a woman? Though you find the ancient black female essence in Nefertari, Cicely Tyson, and Gladys Knight, you end the poem as a lovesick lover, with the lines “while Aryan rape/his darling Khemi:/Her indigo glory/lost to him/forever.” Why such tears?

Askia: Rudy, I ask that you familiarize yourself more with symbolist poetry: be careful about taking things “too literally.” And be careful that you don’t expose yourself to serious criticism from Womanist critics as being insensitive to rape. If you’ll notice, I constantly use “we” and “us”—the Communal Voice—throughout “Aboriginal Elegy.”

And the final stanza, "we contemplate your classic/beauty, like Tarharqa" (check out the simile) "gazing with streaming eyes/ from far Napata,/ while Aryans rape/his darling Khemi: her indigo glory/lost to him/Forever!" 

The poem is not only speaking of the Aryan (Assyrian) rape of “Khemi,” feminized form of Ancient Kemetic archetype, but on the basic level, the rape of the black woman by barbarians! And the defeated pharaoh, Tarharqa (black man) feeling helpless to prevent it.

It seems the question is: why doesn’t something like this rape move you to sadness, outrage—or  even tears; especially because it, deliberately mirrors much of the African-American male experience during chattel slavery, and afterwards, in the Deep South?

Rudy: You are working on another book of poems. Will it also deal with epic issues, like the life and death of peoples, or will it be more personal?

Askia: One thing that both Neruda and Aime Cesaire taught me, was that the political can also be “personal”; that, like so many things, these are often artificial barriers. My new collection deals with jingoistic aspects of “patriotism,” and, hopefully, raises some very basic questions about political hypocrisy. It also raises key questions and issues about the Age we now live in. In this period in Human social development, should one be more “patriotic” to one’s individual “race”/Nation, or to Humanity as a whole? Indeed, what defines “patriotism” when our planet and all of its inhabitants and species are threatened by a rampaging, destructive “Global” imperialism?

Rudy: A final word on BAM, do you think Amiri Baraka  the BAM poet with the most notoriety, caused the dissolution of BAM by his tough ideological stance or confusion, for instance, his calling fellow poets, “pork chop nationalists”?

Askia: What is the root of this seeming obsession with Amiri Baraka? Is this an unconscious aspect of a Personality Cult? Do you realize that you’ve never asked any questions about Larry Neal, Sonia Sanchez, Hoyt Fuller, Dr. Carolyn Fowler, Haki Madhubuti, Sarah Fabio, “Umbra,” Ishmael Reed, Tom Dent, Lorenzo Thomas, Calvin Hernton, my mentor John O. Killens? Only Baraka, Baraka, Baraka?

As far as the “dissolution of BAM" was concerned, whatever Amiri’s alleged problems, we can’t lay the crushing of a Movement on one person. I would repeat that it was U.S. Imperialism’s response to the revolutionary BAM/BLM that caused Its “dissolution”: the attacks by the FBI’s COINTELPRO on Black radical groups, coupled with the “recession” and Drug Plagues in the Inner Cities, during the Reagan era which crushed the Movement.

A Final Point: I don’t know where you get your information, but the term “Porkchop Nationalist” came from our defining certain Harlem street-speakers as “pork-choppin’”— i.e., "hustling money" from crowds after speaking. (One famous Street-griot was even named Eddie “PorkChop” Davis.) The vicious, slanderous attempt to apply that definition to the Black Power revolutionaries came from the white “New Left”-backed Eldridge Cleaver! At no time did I ever hear, or hear of, Amiri Baraka using that vicious term. Only the white-applauded Eldridge Leroy Cleaver. 

Peace, Out!

               <<------Rudy Interview Askia Part I

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Dawnsong! The Epic Memory of Askia Toure By Askia M. Touré. Introduction by Joyce A. Joyce. Dawnsong! won the 2003 "Stephen Henderson Poetry Award." – presented by the African-American Literature and Culture Society of the American Literature Association.

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Askia Muhammad Touré, right alongside Amiri Baraka , Larry Neal, Sonia Sanchez, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, etc., is considered one of the principal architects of the 1960s Black Arts/Black Aesthetic movements. A member of the legendary Umbra Group and of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Touré has remained an activist poet of conscience throughout his years. His other books include Earth (1968), JuJu: Magic Songs for the Black Nation (with playwright Ben Caldwell / 1970), Songhai! (1972), and From the Pyramids to the Projects (1990), which won an American Book Award. Widely published in Black Scholar, Soulbook, Black Theatre, Black World, and Freedomways, his poems and essays have embodied the ideology of a people seeking to reclaim their images and history. His recent publications include two collections of poetry Mother Earth Responds: Green Poems and Alternative Visions (Whirlwind Press), and African Affirmations: Songs for Patriots (Africa World Press). 

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Ancient African Nations

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